01 Aug My Health Record a new battleground in family disputes- Dana McCauley Sydney Morning Herald
Family law experts have warned that the My Health Record system could become a new battleground in disputes between warring ex-spouses, while risking the safety of women fleeing abusive former partners.
It has emerged that a loophole exists in the system, allowing a parent who does not have primary custody to create a My Health Record on their child’s behalf, without the consent or knowledge of their former partner. An abusive ex-partner can thereby gain access to details including the location of medical practitioners and pharmacies attended by the child with their primary caregiver, potentially narrowing down the locations of victims in hiding.
Health Minister Greg Hunt is holding crisis talks with doctors about the government’s My Health program. Any Australian in such a position may contact the Australian Digital Health Agency and request that their child’s personal identification number – which is linked to their Medicare account – be suspended immediately. The Agency will then assess any requests by the respective parents to register as a person authorised to act on behalf of the child. If approved, this will give either parent the power to create, access and monitor the child’s My Health Record, with or without the other parent’s consent.
Angela Lynch, chief executive of the Women’s Legal Service in Queensland, warned that any refusal of access by the Digital Health Agency could be contested in the Family Court, including by an abusive former partner. “Perpetrators are highly litigious and will use information against victims and family,” Ms Lynch told Fairfax Media. She said many abusers retained shared parental responsibility of their children, even if apprehended violence orders were in place, because the Family Court was a forum where parties were often forced to compromise. Unless a primary caregiver has a Family Court order granting them sole parental responsibility in regard to medical treatment, which was rare, a refusal of access would be unlikely to withstand a legal challenge, Ms Lynch said. She also noted that apprehended violence orders frequently did not name children as protected parties.
It remains unclear how the Digital Health Agency will mediate the rival claims of parents seeking to create or delete children’s My Health Records. Terese Edwards, chief executive of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, said she had “serious concerns” about the privacy and safety of vulnerable women under the My Health Record system, “especially if they have had an abusive or controlling person in their life and particularly if there’s children involved”. “I am concerned that a lot of women don’t realise what it can actually mean,” Ms Edwards said.
Labor has called for the suspension of the My Health Record rollout until the Turnbull government deals with privacy concerns. Linda Burney MP, the opposition’s spokeswoman on domestic violence, said the government must “consult with community groups about concerns private information could be accessed by abusive partners in abusive relationships”. “We know that in many abusive relationships, abuse continues in many forms. One form of abuse is exercising control over such things as login details,” Ms Burney said. “We strongly urge the government to consult and work closely with advocacy and support groups in the preventing family violence space, to ensure that My Health Record can be used safely by all.”
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is expected to announce how his government will respond to the widespread criticisms of My Health Record, after crisis talks with the head of the Australian Medical Association in Melbourne on Tuesday night. Privacy concerns about the My Health Record Act – including the section that empowers authorities to access patient records without a warrant – were on the agenda, after the association’s president, Tony Bartone, last week vowed to do “whatever it takes” to safeguard patients’ interests.
Mr Hunt has been under increased pressure on the issue after last weekend’s byelections, in which Labor bolstered its position in part by attacking the Turnbull government’s record on health.
Originally published SMH 31 July